Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
- Ketogenic Diet
- Nutritional Support
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain that causes recurrent episodes called seizures. A seizure is sometimes described as an electrical storm in the brain leading to abnormal movements, sensations, and states of consciousness. In reality, however, it is more orderly than a storm. During a seizure, nerves function in an abnormally synchronized manner, a kind of lockstep that can continue for seconds or minutes. The results range from mild changes in awareness to violent convulsions.
Isolated seizures can occur for many reasons. The term epilepsy is applied when a person has recurrent seizures with no known treatable cause. If the seizure occurs in a localized part of the brain, it is called a partial seizure . If it affects much of brain, it is called a generalized seizure .
The most common forms of generalized seizures are absence seizures (petit mal) and tonic-clonic seizures (grand mal). Petit mal seizures involve a brief lapse of consciousness that occurs suddenly and lasts for a brief time before disappearing; there are usually no symptoms afterward. A grand mal seizure involves: loss of consciousness, convulsions of the body, tongue biting, and often urination. A state of confusion follows the seizure.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
There are no well-established herbs or supplements for the treatment of epilepsy. However, a number of supplements may be useful for treating nutritional deficiencies caused by anticonvulsant drugs. Besides herbs and supplements, the ketogenic diet might be helpful for controlling seizures in children.
Note : Epilepsy is far too serious a condition for self-treatment. For this reason, none of the treatments listed below should be used without the advice and supervision of a doctor.
Before drug treatments for epilepsy were invented, scientists noticed that fasting tends to reduce seizure frequency. Subsequent investigation pinned down a metabolic state called ketosis as the causative factor. Ketosis occurs during fasting and also while consuming a diet high in fat and very low in carbohydrates (the ketogenic diet).
When effective anticonvulsant drugs were developed, the ketogenic diet fell into disfavor, but in recent years medical interest has returned. Today, the diet is seeing increased use in the treatment of people who do not respond fully to standard medications. Most studies have involved children because they tend to be more agreeable than adults to the diet.
Many drugs can impair the body’s ability to absorb or metabolize certain nutrients; however, anticonvulsants are particular offenders. Meaningful evidence indicates that common anticonvulsants interfere with the body’s handling of folate , biotin , calcium , vitamin D , and vitamin K . In addition, one anticonvulsant, valproic acid, affects the nutrient-like substance carnitine . For these reasons, it is often recommended that people using anticonvulsants take supplements that provide these nutrients.
However, there’s a potential catch to correcting such “nutrient depletions.” In some cases, taking the nutrient can impair the absorption or alter the metabolism of anticonvulsant drugs. In other cases, it is possible that nutrient depletion is part of how the anticonvulsant operates! For this reason, physician supervision is essential when taking any supplements.
Low folate levels are also linked to increased risk of a variety of birth defects. Because anticonvulsant drugs deplete folate, babies born to women taking anticonvulsants are at increased risk for such birth defects.
It is not clear whether this biotin deficiency actually causes any problems. Nonetheless, it is not good to be short on any essential nutrient, and for this reason biotin supplementation has been recommended during long-term anticonvulsant therapy. Keep in mind, though, that the action of anticonvulsant drugs may be at least partly related to their effect on biotin levels. For this reason, physician supervision is strongly advised before adding biotin to an anticonvulsant regimen.
In other circumstances, anticonvulsants seldom deplete vitamin K enough to cause bleeding problems. However, vitamin K deficiency may contribute to anticonvulsant-induced osteoporosis.
Other Proposed Treatments for Epilepsy
Herbs and Supplements
Other supplements sometimes suggested for epilepsy (but with no meaningful supporting evidence) include vitamin B 1 , vitamin B 6 , beta-carotene , and glycine . Herbs traditionally regarded as “nervines” or nerve-relaxants are also sometimes proposed, such as the following:
However, there is no meaningful evidence that they can help, and some of these herbs present significant safety concerns.
Note : Most herbs used for epilepsy are sedatives, as are many anticonvulsant drugs. Combination treatment could lead to dangerous over-sedation. People with epilepsy should, therefore, seek medical supervision before using any herbs or supplements.
Herbs and Supplements to Avoid in Epilepsy
Many anti-epilepsy drugs work by blocking the effects of a substance called glutamate; for this reason, high dosages of the closely-related amino acid glutamine could conceivably overwhelm these drugs and pose a risk to people with epilepsy.
Manufacturers of the supplement DMAE warn that it might increase seizure risk.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 08/2013 -
- Update Date: 08/22/2013 -